Imagine giving up everything you’ve ever known, moving your family to the Skagit Valley of Washington state, and your survival depends on your ability to farm and till the land. That’s exactly what Erin Benzakein set out to do, as the family’s desire for a simpler, more sustainable life turned Erin’s flower farm project into a flourishing career.
“Farming is hard work and so is running and growing a flower business,” Erin says. “The process of taking your passion and turning it into something that not only can sustain itself one day, but also can generate a profit to pay you is no easy task.”
Plant the Seeds
Her first paid order for a floral arrangement was the moment she knew she was onto something. “When I delivered my first sweet pea bouquet, the recipient teared up as she buried her face in the flowers. After seeing all the tears, smiles, joy and memories evoked by my flowers, I knew I had found my calling.”
Erin then abandoned her vegetable garden for a floral one, and began Floret Farms, a floral, family-run research and education farm. Erin has also written a book on farming, arranging and harvesting flowers.
Erin researched and developed the Floret seed line after seeing that some of the best cut- flower varieties “are not widely available unless you’re willing to wade through obscure text-heavy catalogs organized by Latin names or spend a lot of money on bulk seeds.” So Erin created a line of 50 to 100 types of seeds of many varieties–instead of the usual 1,000.
The Floret Farmer-Florist Collective, which helps people find local flowers quickly and easily, grew out of a countrywide demand for Floret’s flowers. Our intention when creating this collective was to make a directory that is free, inclusive and accessible on a global level. “I wasn’t able to keep up with local demand for our flowers, so offering them beyond that was not an option. Plus, shipping our blooms went against my philosophy that the freshest, most beautiful flowers are those that are grown locally and not flown in from afar.”
Out of the Weeds
Even as a professional farmer-florist, Erin confesses that she isn’t perfect. “I still overwater plants, accidentally run over rows with the tractor while mowing, or ‘misplace’ trays of seedlings only to find them totally dried up and dead in the corner of the garage because I got distracted by a drop-in visitor.”
The best piece of advice she ever received was to know ahead of time that “you’re going to kill a lot of plants.” Erin and her gorgeous farm are proof that, despite obstacles, you can and will overcome. “Don’t let a mistake get you down,” she says. “Think of it as a rite of passage. Jot it down in your notes, learn from your mistake, and I promise you’ll laugh about it someday sooner than you think.” floretflowers.com.
“Flowers make a room come alive and are small in size yet big in beauty,” says Janet Coon of Shabbyfufu. “There is nothing as elegant as a bare table with a large bouquet of flowers simply placed randomly to please the eye in a vessel.”
This simple aesthetic is unfussy and allows natural elements to speak for themselves, as demonstrated so eloquently in this bouquet arranged by Janet, and featured in the February 2017 issue of Romantic Homes.
The floral elements in this bouquet of the month include:
Baby blue eucalyptus
Queen Anne’s lace
To make the bouquet of the month, fill a pitcher or other tall vase 2/3rds full of fresh water and add plant food. Trim the ends of the floral stems at an angle, but don’t cut them short.
No floral foam is necessary for this arrangement. Start by adding bunches of eucalyptus and argonis, allowing them to drape over the side of the container. Then fill in with additional flowers as desired.
Forcing Peonies to Open:
If you buy your peonies from a flower market or grocery store, they will probably arrive with the buds in tight balls. If you’d like to enjoy the lush, full blooms now instead of waiting, follow these steps to force them to open up:
Cut off all the excess leaves from the stem.
Hold the stem under warm water and make a 45-degree cut.
Keep the flowers in a warm room and replace the water with warm water at least 3 times a day.
(Optional) Put the flowers in your car for a few hours – it will function as a hothouse.
(Optional) Put a plastic bag over the heads of the flowers and seal it, trapping in ethylene gas and encouraging them to open faster.
(Optional) Submerge the flowers face down in warm water for about five minutes.
It may be winter outside, but you can still enjoy the beauty and fragrance of fresh flowers indoors. This bouquet, designed by Janice Morrow, is made up from blooms and greens that are available even in the coldest months of the year. Our all-white selection reflects the snowy weather that some people dream about (and others dream about being over!), but you can bring in whatever colors keep you happy and cheerful during the cold season.
What You’ll Need:
Ironstone urn or other container
Wet floral foam
Clippers or scissors
Flowers: (As shown from left to right) Wax flowers, Gerber daisies, chamomile, stock, feather eucalyptus, mini carnations, spider mums, silver dollar eucalyptus, hydrangea (not shown), amaranth (not shown)
What You’ll Do:
Clean your urn and cut the floral foam to fit inside. Add water, about 2/3rds full.
Begin by inserting long pieces of eucalyptus into the foam, so they drape down over the edge of the urn.
Add several stems of hydrangea to fill in the middle area.
Start adding your large focus flowers (daisies and mums), spacing them randomly around the arrangement. Cut the stems long, to give the arrangement plenty of height and fullness.
Fill spaces with the smaller flowers and additional greens, until you reach the desired fullness.
As a signature touch, Janice adds a spring of amaranth trailing over the side of the urn.
This is a casual arrangement, so don’t worry about symmetry or other formal design structures. The secret to beautiful floral displays, according to Janice, is to be fearless. Follow your instincts, and don’t be afraid to add more!
For more of Janice’s flower arrangements, visit her Instagram account, @figandtwigs.
A bouquet of fresh flowers can do so much to brighten up your home. The scent, the bright colors and the reminder of the world outside will add a breath of fresh air to the room. The downside of fresh bouquets is the cost—the flowers will last for about a week (if you’re lucky), and if you want to keep fresh flowers in your home on a regular basis, the costs will add up to a pretty penny.
Luckily, there’s a solution—grow your own bouquets! “You can fill your house with flowers without spending a fortune,” writes Alex Mitchell in her new book, Gardening on a Shoestring. The book is a helpful gardening resource full of tips and tricks for making the most of your outdoor space without breaking the bank. Here are her instructions for how to create a cutting garden in your own backyard.
What You’ll Need:
An area of ground 6 x 9 feet, cleared of weeds and stones and raked into a fine tilth
Twigs or sticks
6 packets of seed: Bupleurum griffithli, Rudbeckia hirta ‘Marmalade,’ Cosmos ‘Sensation Mix,’ Cornflower ‘Blue Ball,’ Ammi majus, Agrostemma githago (Corncockle), or seeds suited to your planting region
Watering can with rose attachment/garden hose
When To Start:
Mid- to late spring
How to Do it:
Divide your growing area into six equal squares, staking out the grid with twine tied to sticks pushed into the soil. Then sow each square with a different variety of seed. Rake over the soil gently to cover the seeds and water well. Keep the patch weeded and protect the young shoots from slugs until established. Sowing each variety of seed in a different square makes harvesting and weeding easier.
Cut the flowers throughout the spring and summer to keep the plants blooming!
Flowers aren’t just beautiful—they can also send a message. “In the Victorian era and even long before that, flowers served as beautiful messengers that whispered what often could not be spoken aloud,” write Leigh Okies and Lisa McGuinness in their new book, Meaningful Bouquets. From anticipation and affection to forgiveness and friendship, a bouquet of flowers can help you speak to a family member or friend in a new way. “[In the Victorian era], they were the equivalent of clandestine text messages or notes of encouragement,” the authors write. Here are a few flower meanings and how you can combine them to create a beautiful message.
“When you want to commemorate an occasion or a special person, this combination of flowers comes together for a memorable impression,” the authors write. The bouquet doesn’t have to be large—combine the flowers in a vintage coffee or food can for extra effect. Whether the occasion is a birthday, holiday or anniversary, here are some of the flowers you can include and the meaning they convey:
Pink carnations: I will never forget you
Oak leaf hydrangea: Calm
Forget me nots: Remembrance
Crush on You
This bouquet can go to a significant other or another person you admire, such as your mom on Mother’s Day. “This arrangement is a lovely way to express your feelings for someone you find fascinating,” the authors write. “Give it to your crush or a friend to let them know they’ve been on your mind.” Include a “Thinking of You” card to tell them the meanings of the flowers in the bouquet:
Orange roses and rosebuds: Fascination
Maidenhair fern: Secrecy
Rose hips: Love
Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to give comfort to a friend or loved one when they’re having a hard time. A bouquet of flowers with their Victorian meanings is a steady reassurance of love and support. “Giving comfort and sympathy to others requires sensitivity and quiet reassurances,” the authors write. Here are a few flowers you can use to support others:
Scarlet geranium leaves: Sympathy
Glove amaranth: Unchangeable
For more ideas, including bouquets for celebration, luck and passionate love, get a copy of Meaningful Bouquets here.
You already know that to turn a house into a comfortable home you need to make it fit your style and lifestyle, but you are probably less certain of how to make all the elements come together in the most effective personal and functional ways. That’s when an interior designer can be your friend—and in homeowner Joan Swartz’s case, the designer actually was one.
“We chose Santa Monica for the neighborhood and good public schools, and this house had enough bedrooms that even with a live‐in nanny and home office, I imagined we would never have to move again,” Joan explains. Although the house was two stories with six bedrooms, there was no real master suite, and it was in poor condition. It had also been remodeled with cheap finishes, such as aluminum sliding windows.
“So we tore it down to the studs and reorganized the entire floor plan and front elevation to restore it to look and live like an original, traditional Cape Cod‐style house,” Joan says. “I was determined to use every inch of this house—and I did.”
About 12 years later, Joan met interior designer Alison Kandler, who helped her remodel a second time, to redesign the kitchen/family room, entry and powder room on the first floor.
“Another decade went by before we tackled the second story,” Joan says. “My sons were all out of the house by then, so we remodeled the master suit and kids’ bathroom, and cannibalized a couple of bedrooms to become my home office and an upstairs family room.”
A third remodel of the home included the attic area. Although the three remodels were done many years apart, Joan wanted them to look seamless. “I wanted to make it feel cohesive, like it was all done at the same time, even though it was a work in progress for 25 years,” she says.
Some of her favorite architectural details include sloped ceilings, dormers in the bedrooms, and niches that are very romantic and charming. “And a lot of windows—about 65 windows,” Joan says. “Windows on at least two sides of a room help to let light into a room at different times of the day. I love living so near the ocean for the constant ocean breeze and beautiful sunsets.”
Redecorating the Rooms
Through the years, Joan and Alison became business partners as well as close friends. Joan trusted Alison’s intuition and skills as an interior designer to achieve her desired décor. “You can’t collaborate well unless you feel comfortable with someone else having a better idea,” Joan says. “There’s an absence of competitive ego between us, so we work really well as a team. Alison is the keeper of the concept and helps me to balance all these beautiful colors without getting carried away.” Alison’s familiarity with Joan was a great asset in making decorating decisions. “Joan has a lot of personality; she’s very outgoing. She loves life and wanted her home to feel happy, warm and colorful,” she says.
On Joan’s request list was opening up the kitchen for entertaining, so Alison made some creative changes in design and functionality. “I opened it up by getting rid of the upper cabinets and rearranging the overall space,” Alison says. “We wanted to include an island with a stove on it, but the kitchen wasn’t quite big enough, so we created a C‐shaped island so Joan can stand on an angle to cook while seeing through to the family room and socializing with guests.”
Alison had to find another creative solution for a column next to the refrigerator that couldn’t be moved, so she hid it behind laminated glass. She chose American cherry wood for the countertops, since Joan loves the warmth of wood. “The wood counter is a bit of maintenance, so we put a fresh coat of polyurethane on it every year,” Joan says. Since Alison knew Joan loves color, she painted the island in eggplant (plum) and the chairs in different colors.
Making a Splash in the Bath
“My favorite aspect of the project is the tiled shower floor in the master bathroom. It’s covered in a floral design,” Alison says. “An artist in Phoenix creates unusual tiles, so I gave him a color palette of purple and pink flowers, and I told him the kind of flowers I wanted to use.” Joan adores the floral shower floor. “I really like to bring the outdoors in. I feel like I’m showering in a flower garden,” she says.
Another favorite is a guest bathroom that boasts a charming gingham purple floor. “Alison said to me, ‘When are we ever going to get to do a purple floor?’ So I trusted her and went with purple instead of green. It’s fabulous!” Joan says.
Adding a Personal Touch
An unexpected but enduring effect Alison has had on Joan was introducing her to the world of being a collector. “She didn’t have collections at the time, so we started going to flea markets, and she caught the bug.”
Joan has amassed several collections that she enjoys displaying. “I love to buy amateur art and paint‐by‐number paintings at flea markets. I’m a quilter, so I display them as well as my needlepoints, Sandy Kreyer floral ceramics, pitchers, miniature teapots and antique Barbola mirrors from the early 20th century.”
The architect and designer are both thrilled with the outcome. “We live in each other’s art,” Alison says. “You want the family to feel like they could never live anywhere else.” Joan says she is finally living in her dream home. “I feel like Cinderella. Every morning I wake up thinking how lucky I am to live here,” Joan says. “We have plenty of room to have friends stay with us and share our comfortable home. We are really blessed and grateful. It fits us like a glove!”